Several years ago my wife and I returned home from a Christmas concert, full of festive fun and cheer. As we descended the steps to our basement flat, something didn’t seem right. I had left the outside light on – but it was switched off. The front door was slightly ajar. Cautiously I entered the flat to find, unmistakeably, that we had been burgled. Literally, they had been through everything – every drawer, every cupboard, every room!
I remember two distinct feelings at that moment: It was unspeakably cold because for hours the flat had been drained of heat and flooded with the cold winter air. I also remember the intense feeling: “This is wrong!”
That feeling is worth considering further. It wasn’t just that I wished it had never happened. After all, who among us wants to have our lives touched by evil, to have a loved one taken away from us by age or disease, to lose a job or income, to suffer an injury or accident – the list is endless. However, this feeling was not just a personal preference of: “I don’t like this”. (In that same category of opinions you could add: I don’t like marmite, I don’t like dark chocolate, I don’t like icy weather). Instead, it was a feeling of: “This is morally wrong. The world ought not to be this way!”
Have you ever wondered why suffering seems so wrong to us?
Although all living creatures in this world experience pain, only humans perceive it to be not just a fact of nature, but as a moral problem. Secularism is unable to help us make sense of this intuitive experience. For example secular scientist Richard Dawkins says:
“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference”.
Yet, when bad things happen to us, we don’t greet them with “pitiless indifference”. We feel wronged; we know things shouldn’t be this way; we want justice.
Why is this? I would argue it’s because we instinctively know that we live in a moral universe with moral laws and standards. And there is no moral law apart from a law-giver. This was the realisation of the former sceptic and Ox-bridge professor C.S. Lewis:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line”.
So the problem of suffering itself implies the existence of God. Nevertheless, you might wonder what kind of God would allow us to suffer.
Well when we look at the world and when we experience its brokenness, we are not seeing the world as God intended it to be in the beginning, nor as God plans to restore it to be like in the end. As we find ourselves in the middle of this story, the good news is that we are not alone! God has not remained distant and unfeeling from our pain. Rather in an act of incredible love He has pursued us and come into this world to rescue us, in His Son, Jesus. He has walked many miles in our shoes, He has worn our skin, He has felt our pain, He has drunk the same bitter cup of suffering. Tim Keller puts it well when he says:
“Christianity alone among the world religions claims that God became uniquely and fully human in Jesus Christ and therefore knows first-hand despair, rejection, loneliness, poverty, bereavement, torture and imprisonment”.
He did that because He loves you so much!
Jesus came not just to sympathise with us but to save us. Did it in surprising way: Jesus became an innocent victim of evil in order to vanquish it! In so doing He has made it possible for us to be reconciled with God and rescued from evil that lurks within us and around us in this world.
History records that Jesus not only died as a victim of evil, but He rose again three days later as our champion over evil. The tyranny of evil has its days numbered, its greatest weapons have proved impotent against God in Christ. His resurrection assures us that there is coming a day when our longings will be satisfied: good will triumph over evil, death will die, tears will cease, and pain will be healed. Just as Jesus’ body was raised from the dead, so that is the pattern for our broken bodies and our broken world.
What are we to do about suffering until then? That’s a question explored by the Russian novelist and Christian: Dostoevsky. In his celebrated book “The Brothers Karamazov”, we are introduced to Ivan the atheist and Alyosha the Christian. Ivan is a sceptic, deeply troubled by the suffering of innocent children in the world. He cannot intellectually understand how a good God could allow such things to happen, so reluctantly rejects God. Ivan attacks his brother’s faith, posing some of the most difficult philosophical questions against all that I’ve shared with you today. Alyosha is unable intellectually to answer all of Ivan’s questions – instead he kisses his brother and befriends a group of impoverished street children, seeking to help make their hard lives better and alleviate their suffering. In doing so Alyosha is following in the footsteps of Jesus and showing what we can do – even if we don’t have all our intellectual questions answered in this lifetime.
So the next time you find yourself suffering and saying “This seems so wrong” – you’re right – it is! But at that moment, lift your mind and prayers to God in heaven, and be reminded that He cares – because Jesus shows that He does!